There is of course no correct way to write a song; no right way to get to the music or the lyrics.
Some people write on piano, some guitar… some use an omnichord or autoharp, some create a cappella, some to tracks. Some write music to a lyric; some write a beat and create melody and lyrics to that. Some write their lyrics longhand, some type. Etc. Whatever works!
Before I try to explain my process a bit, let me say that in no way do I claim it’s the best one… or even a good one. All it is is mine, at the moment.
Almost always, I write lyrics longhand and use a guitar. I think the reasons are connected.
I used to write a lot on piano, but I haven’t used a piano to write a song for 20 years or so. I’m fairly knowledgeable harmonically, and on piano it was much harder for me to stay focused on what I think is musically most important in a song – the melody, the bass movement under it, the essential chord tones.
Even though I’m a bad piano player, I still managed to play too many notes in my chords (10 at a time!). My harmonies quickly became too lush for what I was writing. It was hard to control something all-important – the tone of the song. It was easier for it to get away from me than when I wrote on the guitar.
My guitar technique is very limited too. In a way, I think I’ve made that work in my favor. I have to really consider every note in my chord or my riffs. And, even though one can only play six notes at a time on guitar, I tend to only play three or four at once (probably because I’m a bass player).
Also, the guitar rests against my body as I write, so I feel more connected to it physically. Of course the piano resonates through one’s fingers to the body too, but not in the same way. Again, maybe because I’m primarily a bassist (although I don’t write hardly at all on the bass), I just feel more connected to and on the guitar.
Writing my lyrics longhand, in a notebook, works similarly for me. I feel more synced with my subconscious when I’m scribbling than when I’m typing. Since I barely typed anything until I got my first computer, typing is far from second nature to me. Writing with a pen and paper is.
That said, I find it extremely useful, as my lyric develops, to see it typed out. All kinds of different ideas occur to me… perhaps because with typed words I’m operating at a more rational, less subterranean, level.
I guess I’m writing this to get you to think about what you use to write and ask you to keep in mind that there are other ways (I’m not recommending mine). But it also makes me more deeply question my own methods.
Is my routine a rut? Just because I got a certain kind of result on piano 20 years ago doesn’t mean I’d get the same result now. Or maybe it’d be good for me to write that way now!
It’s worth re-examining my methods every once in a while. Have they outlived their usefulness? Right now, for me, I don’t think so. But it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try things another way too.
Why not? What am I afraid of?
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